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The question

I'm a busy, healthy 50-year-old man. I eat well and run daily, but I struggle to get out of bed, usually logging about 9 hours of sleep. My niece - an MD - says there are serious health risks associated with sleeping too much. Is this true?

The answer

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High quality sleep is vital for maintaining both our emotional and physical health. Proper sleep - in quality and quantity - is restorative and increases our immune function, improves our concentration and helps keep us alert and energized for the day.

Sleep requirements vary from person to person and also by age. In general for adults, the average number of hours of sleep needed per night can range from 6-9 hours, with most people feeling well rested and refreshed with 7-8 hours. There are many studies that consistently demonstrate that lack of adequate sleep in both quality and quantity, results in a higher risk of death and illness such as high blood pressure, weight gain and heart disease.

As your niece has noted, excessive sleep (greater than 9 hours each night) also seems to have potential negative consequences on health such as low mood and energy and may lead to poor health outcomes. Shortened sleep is clearly associated with specific health risks, but the same association has not been as well established with excessive sleep and further studies need to be done to understand the specific negative consequences.

You are getting sufficient hours of sleep, but you still feel tired when you wake. My concern with this is not the number of hours you're sleeping but that the sleep doesn't seem to be restorative for you. Factors that may affect sleep quality include medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and depression and sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

External factors such as alcohol consumption, medications or a disruptive bed-mate can all reduce sleep quality.

Limiting alcohol use before bedtime, getting regular exercise and establishing a regular sleep routine can all help to improve your sleep. In addition to these suggestions, you could consider seeing how you feel with fewer hours of sleep. You sound like you are otherwise healthy, and 9 hours may be too much for you. Do a trial of shorter sleep of 7-8 hours instead of 9 hours per night, and evaluate your energy levels during the day. This will give you an idea of how much sleep you really need to feel refreshed.

If you are still not feeling alert during the day, consider checking in with your doctor to rule out an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition that may be contributing to poor sleep. Getting the right amount of good quality sleep is important, so get checked out earlier than later to see if there are ways to increase your energy and prevent further deterioration of your sleep patterns.

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Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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